In a short address in the Rose Garden, Melania Trump unveiled her official initiative: “Be Best,” which focuses on social media, well-being, and the effects of opioid abuse on young people.
In a video that played prior to the first lady’s speech, she emphasized the “values” of “encouragement, kindness, [and] compassion” to better equip children to “deal with the evils” of the modern world. The video, a mixture of vague and inspirational platitudes, was reiterated during her speech.
Trump described“Be Best” as an “awareness campaign dedicated to the most valuable and fragile among us.” Trump’s campaign, she said, will have “one goal,” to “educate children about the many issues they are facing today.” It will focus on what she described as “three main pillars”: social media use, opioid abuse, and well-being. It will do so, the first lady said, by emphasizing “mutual respect, compassion, and self-esteem,” as well as “teach[ing] children the importance of the aspects of their well-being” including “social and emotional health.” Trump used the phrase “health” in its vaguest sense. While it’s clear that “Be Best” is dedicated to encouraging children, it seems to have little interest beyond the gesture, either by addressing healthcare policy that is being rapidly dismantled by her husband’s administration or access to the tools of emotional health.
Following its name, the program will encourage children to “be best in their individual paths through life,” Trump said. “Be Best” will also address social media use which, she explained, is “too often used in negative ways.” Instead, it will guide children on the benefits of social media by educating and reminding children “that when they’re using their voices, they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.” Ostensibly, “Be Best” will not use the president’s own approach to social media as a positive example of either respect or compassion.
It looked as though Trump had initially backed away from her campaign promise to take on cyberbullying as a platform after an entire nation groaned at the overburned irony of the first lady taking on such a topic. According to the New York Times, Donald Trump suggested that Melania abandon cyberbullying as a platform, “knowing she would get criticized if she pursued anything related to social media.” “Mr. Trump suggested she take an easier path,” the Times reports. “But Mrs. Trump ultimately decided to make good online behavior a part of something broader.”
“Be Best” was, indeed, broad. In her speech today Trump did not offer specifics and her language around social media use was (likely purposefully) vague. Instead of mapping specific policy, she spoke generally about the importance of children and encouraged conversation about “how we raise and educate our children” since they “will provide the blueprint for the next generation.” Instead of focusing on one signature issues as former first ladies have tended to do (Laura Bush focused on literacy and Michelle Obama on fitness and health), Trump’s “Be Best” casts a wider net, broadly encouraging children to “be best in all they do.” Even after Trump’s speech, it was unclear how opioid addiction fit into the pieces of the well-being and social media puzzle.
As Trump encouraged parents to encourage children and encouraged children to “be best,” she promised that she “will make every effort to be best,” by shining a “spotlight” on organizations that reflect the mission of “Be Best.” Even as Trump emphasized values, those values remained ambiguous in her speech, undefined and complicated by an even vaguer sense that, at this moment, they are shared. Still, Trump delivered her speech with necessary compassion, stylishly performing the role of the first lady, even as “Be Best” seemed like little more than an uncanny collage of principles often offered up as evidence of America’s greatness—all done in service to a White House that only occasionally gives them lip service.
After her speech, Donald Trump thanked the first lady for her “beautiful and heartfelt speech,” as well as her work with children. Trump then signed a proclamation declaring May 7th “Be Best Day” before handing his signing pen to the first lady.